Spiritual Hygiene


A Concerned Catholic looks at the Democratic Party

By John Mallon

The Daily Oklahoman, 03/10/2000


Spiritual Hygiene

By John Mallon

Recently a friend called while I was doing some cleaning. I joked with him that I’m a single guy who lives alone and I clean the house every few years whether it needs it or not! (Perhaps I shouldn’t say that where single women will hear it...) 

There was a saying in the first half of the 20th century that people would take a bath every Saturday night whether they needed it or not. And how about the medieval days when people would bathe once a year? To our modern sensibilities, especially for Americans, who have the luxury of bathing daily, these stories make you gag.

But then, we sometimes hear of Catholics who can say with a straight face that they go to confession once a year whether they need it or not. This astounds me. If I went to confession no more than once a year, I would be smoked out by my own soul stench. 

The Church requires that Catholics go to Holy Communion and Confession at least once a year. This is called doing one’s Easter Duty, but doing the absolute minimum is a miserable way to be a Catholic. It is roughly like a husband saying, “But I kissed my wife last year! Isn’t that enough?” 

The Easter Duty is the outermost parameter to fulfill in order to remain a Catholic in good standing. Actually, going to confession and Communion ought to be a joy—like kissing one’s wife. It ought not to be like fulfilling a chore. Imagine having a spouse who kisses you once a year merely to fulfill an obligation—Don’t do me any favors! 

The Bible and the Catholic teaching and tradition that flows from it tells us that Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom of our souls. Being a Catholic is to be happily married to Christ, for men and women alike. We should long for ever-increasing intimacy with Him. 

Pope Benedict XVI, told the young people at World Youth Day that adoration (which was the theme of the event) comes from the Latin to embrace, kiss.

He said,

“The Greek word is ‘proskynesis’. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure. [...] The Latin word is ‘ad-oratio’, mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is love.” 

That is what the heart most longs for: union with God for eternity, and it is the goal of all prayer and every religious action. This is mirrored in the union of a husband and wife. Human union in marriage points beyond itself to this everlasting union with Christ our Bridegroom in Heaven. 

Saint Therese of Lisieux referred to her first Holy Communion as “that first kiss of Jesus.” This is what being a Catholic is all about. If we see it only as a set of rules and requirements we miss the boat. People in love see that rules are already written in their hearts and welcome and cherish them for the security and protection they provide. 

You don’t need to tell a man truly in love not to commit adultery. The very idea is horrifying to him—as is anything that would hurt his beloved and the bond they share. Love has already taught him the rules in his heart. The true lover wants nothing to stand in the way of the free flow of love. For this reason he loves the rules for confirming what is already in his heart through love.

What stands in the way of love, both natural and supernatural is sin. The lover who sees sin appear between he and his beloved has one reaction: “Get rid of it!” We get rid of sin in the confessional. If we loved more we would be flying to the confessional, not out of scrupulosity or neurotic guilt but out of love, out of respect for both our human and supernatural loves. Sin does damage to all we hold dear.

During Lent this year, I went to confession and the priest asked me how long it had been. It had been some months. He recommended I go at least monthly. This was a practice I had kept up in the past but had gotten away from. 

I thought about it over the week and came to a decision to go weekly at least through Lent. I had accumulated some clingy sins that I was having trouble shaking off and which were bothering my conscience. I had found that the only way I could shake them off was through this sacrament. I wanted to get clean with Jesus and stay clean with Him. I also wanted to be with Him in the intimacy of the sacrament, and I wanted the healing it provided. 

Since then I have decided to continue going to confession weekly for the rest of my life.

An old priest I knew once told me that each time we go to confession our soul is dipped in the Blood of Christ. 

Someone might say, “Oh come on! You’re not that bad! You don’t need to go that often!” I could respond, “You don’t need to kiss your wife very often for her to love you, but I don’t recommend making it a rarity.” 

But actually, how “good” or “bad” I am is not the issue. I’m not the judge of that. I want to be with Christ in the intimacy He gives us in the sacraments. My sins endanger all that I long for. And upon my death I want to be greeted as His beloved, not a stranger needing an introduction. 

I may not dwell in the odor of sanctity, but I don’t want to be gagging on the stench of my soul, which will surely accumulate if left unattended. But I do like the sweet smell of grace, which He dispenses lavishly in the kisses of His Sacraments.


John Mallon is Contributing Editor for Inside the Vatican magazine.